Friday, October 28, 2011

Shetland Ponies and the Grand National - the stuff marketing dreams are made of?

There are few sights more endearing than thundering Shetland ponies tearing around a steeplechase course tackling 12 miniature "Aintree-style" fences. Shetland Ponies are fabulous, fierce competitors, and their cuteness often belies a high intelligence and well-developed sense of mischief.

The Shetland Pony Grand National qualifier from the 2011 Badminton Horse Trials, one of several qualifying events held in England as riders and their ponies vie to qualify for one of 10 spots in the Shetland Pony Grand National at Olympia, the London International Horse Show, held in December.

From an event marketing perspective, the Shetland Pony Grand National really has it all. The ponies and kids are compelling, the race is incredibly fun. It is a compellingly cute attraction that appeals to audiences young and old, and it is linked to charity and a high-profile, worthwhile cause. The Shetland Pony Grand National raises significant money for charity, draws visitors to horse shows (which means increased profile, more revenue, etc), and, in an era where a significant number of breeds are considered endangered by the, gives the Shetland Pony Registry and the breed's opportunity to do what it must: reinvent the Shetland Pony so that it stays relevant in the modern world.

About Shetland Ponies:
Shetland Ponies originated as a breed in the Shetland Isles, northeast of mainland Scotland. They are small, hardy ponies ranging in height from 7 hands (28 inches) to 10.2 hands (42 inches) at the withers. American Shetlands can be as large as 11.2 hands (46 inches).

The ponies have heavy coats, short legs and are considered very intelligent. were first recognized as a breed in 1890. They were first used for pulling carts, carrying peat, coal and other items, and for plowing farm land. When the Industrial Revolution increased the demand for coal, Shetland ponies were used as pit ponies on mainland Britain and in the United States, where the last pony mine closed in 1971.

They were officially recognized as a breed in 1890. 

Today, Shetland ponies are ridden and shown by both children and adults in harness classes, and used for pleasure driving outside the show ring. Shetland ponies remain very popular for small children, used in riding schools, for pleasure riding and at horse shows. They can also be trained as guide horses, peforming the same role as guide dogs.

 About the Shetland Pony Grand National:
The Shetland Pony Grand National stared in 1981 as the brain-child of the Late Raymond Brooks-Ward, the founder of the Olympia International Horse Show. The steeplechase is run along the same lines as its big  brother, the Grand National at Aintree. Ponies are paraded, jockeys (wearing racing silks) are mounted led to the start. The race around the course incorporates 2 1/2 laps and 12 miniature Aintree-style fences. 

The rules of the event are simple:
  • Riders must compete for a year in a discipline like jumping, eventing or dressage before beginning the qualifying process at the Windsor Horse Show.
  • Competitors must be between the ages of 9 and 13, and no taller than 5'1".
  • Ponies must be at least 5 years old, and registered with the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society.
The purpose of the Grand National is two-fold. It raises money through race sponsorships: since its inaugural race in 1981, the Shetland Pony Grand National has raised more than £400K, with the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital being this year's charity of choice.

Great sites to visit to learn more about Shetland ponies
and of course, the Shetland pony wiki page:

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